Photo Credit: Chris Charles
Professional Black Girl Shows Viewers The Real New Orleans
New Orleans is a hotbed of cultural innovation, creative spirits, and gastronomical excellence. It’s also a city built on resilience and The World Channel’s Professional Black Girl is giving us a glimpse into the lives of the women who are impacting the culture.
The show’s creator is Dr.Yaba Blay, a scholar and activist from The Big Easy, whose work centers on uplifting and celebrating Black women. Among the women featured on Professional Black Girl are media personality and famed wedding planner Fresh Johnson, Mardi Gras queen Tahj Williams, and Tarriona ‘Tank’ Ball, who fronts the Grammy Award-nominated group Tank and the Bangas.
Travel Noire caught up with Dr. Blay to learn more about Professional Black Girl, why New Orleans is more heavily influenced by Africans than the French, and her decision to step away from academia.
Travel Noire: What inspired you to create this program?
YB: I was born and raised in New Orleans and there’s no place like it, of course. This series is called Professional Black Girl and when I use the language of professional, I’m being subversive. I am a college professor and at the time I was teaching at an HBCU. So many of my women students were drawn to me, like I couldn’t get them out of my office. What I realized and what we talked a lot about is how in so many ways, many of my colleagues were attempting to train these young women away from themselves; meaning you’re a college student and if you want to be successful, if you want to get a job, here’s a list of things that you have to change about yourself.
So if your name is Keisha Danielle, maybe you should put K. Danielle on your resume. Or, if you speak with a thick accent, this is how you should be speaking when you have a phone interview. When you go somewhere in person, you should be wearing your hair like this, or you should be dressing like that. It annoyed me.
Of course, these are things that I’ve heard myself, and I’ve always been resistant to. So, I want it to be a living example to them that you can absolutely show up in the world as yourself, and rep for Black culture and still be successful in whatever it is you do.
The program features so many women that I know personally and other women that I’ve been connected to. We’re talking about all the ways they love being Black girls, and all the ways that they’re connected to their culture.
TN: Are they all native to New Orleans?
TN: New Orleans obviously plays a huge part in this program as a backdrop and I think for most of the world when they think of the city, Mardi Gras is what comes to mind. As a native, what does your New Orleans look like?
YB: Aside from just sit-down interviews with the women, I had each of them take me to a location in the city. So you get a view of the city outside the French Quarter. Most people who go to New Orleans are like, ‘Oh, I love New Orleans, I love the food’, and then you come to find out they haven’t really traveled outside the French Quarter.
When I think about Katrina and the devastation, the French Quarter was the first place that was restored because that’s where the money center is. They care more about that than the outlying areas where people actually live, so our New Orleans is beyond the French Quarter.
Another thing that I think a lot of people maybe don’t know is New Orleans is a very Black, very African city. Spiritually and culturally, there are so many direct links to our homeland ancestrally speaking. My family’s from Ghana, and I was born and raised in New Orleans. I’ve always lived within and in between the two cultures. I think as a child, as a way of trying to make myself know that I fit into both places, I’ve always connected the dots. One of my favorite Ghanaian meals is okra soup, which is almost identical to gumbo.
Think about our food culture, the spice composition, and our obsession with rice. Even in the Caribbean, we know that rice and peas originated in Ghana. Culturally speaking, I think that’s the unfortunate thing. What people love about New Orleans is a good time, it’s about the food. Yes, it’s about being able to drink all day, all hours of the day. Sure. But we have to give credit to the ancestors who contributed to that. Yes, it’s a French city, but you see more Africa than you do France.
TN: What is a story that most jumps out at you from the program?
YB: It’s hard to say because so many of them give us something. I’m thinking of Miss Gina. Her story jumps out at me because my work focuses on colorism and Miss Gina is culturally and ancestrally Creole. So many people have heard about Creole culture in New Orleans, and it aligned so much with my work, but she talks a little about that history and what it means to be Creole.
Being deep, dark-skinned, and growing up there and African, my experience with Creole felt like it was a rejection of Blackness. So many people have taught me otherwise.
One story that wasn’t featured is of Naima, a trans woman. Her story is definitely one to watch. It’s not on the AfroPop series, but it’s on my YouTube channel and on the Professional Black Girl website. She definitely gives us insight into what it means to her to be a woman.
TN: Do you have plans for future editions of this program? And if so, would you be taking it to different cities?
YB: It’s interesting, I didn’t even plan for season two. Season two happened after folks were like, ‘where’s season two?’ The amazing thing is that season two was funded by my community. I did a Kickstarter and people gave donations. So we’ve made it happen as a community.
I’m not independently wealthy sitting with money to produce a show by myself. So, whether it’s acquired or supported by an outside entity, or if the community wants to do another season, my intention, at least, would be to go to someplace in the diaspora.
Find out more about Professional Black Girl and watch the episodes here.
This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity and clarity.